Snow Tires

I’ve driven in snow a fair amount, but mostly about 30 years ago and in cars with chains on them. Mostly in my old Honda Civic from 1980 to 1994. Front wheel drive and didn’t really seem to need chains. Some in an old 1967 VW that also didn’t care much about snow or chains (skinny tires with weight on them).

Now I’ve got a 4Matic Wagon for the spouse and a Subaru Forester for me. The 4Matic has “Cooper CS4” tires on it (I think I’m remembering that right) while the Scout has Bridgestone Turanza Serenity on it. Both are generally M&S rated, but without the “Three Mountains” real snow tire rating.

OK, I’ve never driven a 4 x 4 in the snow. I’m expecting to do that more since we have kids, grandkids and family in Chicago and will be making winter runs up from Florida (i.e. through mountains unless diverted to the west). I’m of the opinion that what I’ve got is “good enough” for a few inches of snow.

BUT: it is not an informed decision.

So, all you folks living in Frozen Land: What is your experience / opinion? Do I need to get a set of luggy real truck real snow tires for those Thanksgiving, Christmas, January birthday runs through Georgia to Illinois? Or are the wheels I’ve got “plenty”?

Bear in mind that recent events have shown a LOT of snow “back East” (where we intend to be in a year or so…) showing at the moment:

Michigan city’s snowfall totals climbing toward record highs
February 10, 2018 by Robert

With more snow on the way.

New snowfall record for Calgary, Alberta
February 10, 2018 by Robert

9 Feb 2018 – “For this time period in February you have the most snow on the ground ever recorded

Record snowfall in Wisconsin
February 10, 2018 by Robert

I find it hard to believe that such a small amount of snow – in Wisconsin, yet! – could have broken any records.

Record snowfall in British Columbia
February 10, 2018 by Robert

Mt. Timothy dealing with record snowfall

Record Montana snowfall for the season
February 10, 2018 by Robert

Several reporting stations in central and eastern Montana are reporting historic snowfall totals through the first week in February.
The Coming Ice Age – Interview with Robert Felix
February 9, 2018 by Robert

Why We Must Forget About Man-Made Global Warming and Come To Terms With the Fact That the Next Ice Age Could Begin Any Day

Atlas Shrugged – The Movie
February 9, 2018 by Robert

Who is John Galt?

Major winter storm pounds U.S. Midwest
February 9, 2018 by Robert

Heavy snowfall threatens to bring travel to a standstill.

Record snowfall in Japan kills seven
February 8, 2018 by Robert

Many motorists forced to spend the night in their vehicles.

Bitter Cold In Every Direction
February 8, 2018 by Robert

Harsh Winter Conditions Grip Northern Hemisphere As Globe Cools

It will likely be a year before I need to actually buy anything, but the kid did call to say they had snow on the ground now and things were slow / stopped in the area.

So, am I ‘Good to Go!’ or do I need to order a set of winter rims & tires for the Little Truck?

Is there significant difference between driving The Sierra Nevada Mountains in winter skiing conditions vs MidWest Flat or Appalachian Hills? What do I need to know about “Back East Winter” that Sierra Nevada Winter does not teach?

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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58 Responses to Snow Tires

  1. Steve Inhof says:

    Lived in Wisconsin most of my life and never needed anything more than all season tires with decent tread. I have a 4WD truck but almost never need or use it in 4WD.

  2. Hifast says:

    Quick answer to Sierra vs Midwest differences: Generally yes. Sierra–more snow. Midwest–more ice. But the biggest factor is your home neighborhood.

    Much of the decision rests on a) snow removal services, b) ice storm frequency, and c) neighborhood geography (north-facing hillsides, tree-lined streets, etc.). For icy neighborhoods, studded tires are essential. For heavy snow, chains are essential regardless of 4×4/AWD or tire type.

    You don’t see tire chains in the Midwest much at all, and I see (hear actually) more studded tires in the Sierras.

    I would not spend the money on studded tires until I needed them–meaning I got tired of putting on chains due to frequent ice. I would invest in one pair of chains, tho–the universal solution regardless of tire and 4×4/AWD.

    Domicile history: Sierra, Cascades, Alaska, Germany, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Ohio. Trends: Hilly neighborhoods + poor snow removal ==> studs.

  3. rogercaiazza says:

    Living in the lake-effect snow belt of New York where snow covered roads are a chronic problem I never use anything other than all season tires. But, and it is a big but, I also don’t go out if I know the roads are going to be horrible, albeit my definition of horrible is more strict than most. In your case if you have to get to the kids on snow covered roads, you won’t have that option so I would recommend winter tires with studs for trips into the north or accept that you might not be on “time” if the weather is bad.

  4. rogercaiazza says:

    PS – For snow covered roads it is not the starting that is the problem – it is the stopping, so four wheeled drive is not that important most of the time. If you have to use your brakes you are in trouble.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve got a full chains kit for my Mercedes ( 185-75/14 to 195/70-14 to 205-65 /14 to 205/60-15 to 215-55/16) and I’m pretty sure they will fit nicely on the Subaru 215-60/16. All are about 24.x to 25.x inches diameter. The Subaru an outlier at 26.1 inches. So about 1 inch more diameter. Not all that much.

    I have the full tool kit to adjust their size, including spare links and cross bars, and have made my own chains once I got the full tool kit. (Generally starting from existing chains and putting on crossbars more to my liking, though I have made sides out of regular chain material too). To the extent they need “fitting”, I can do that in about an hour.

    It isn’t at all hard to make a set of chains, as long as you have the “closures” from some other set. Most of it is just a couple of long runs for the sides, then some cross bar segments crimped in place (reusing the regular attachment ends if needed). I found it oddly cathartic to “rebuild the chains” when bored stuck in the hotel room at the lodge / skiing hotel. If you don’t have the end closures for the cross bars, you can make them from regular chain links with a cutter and some bending… As cross links wear but the rest of the chains pretty much don’t, it’s cheap and easy to just put in some extra chain chunks as they wear. It was also nice to avoid those dangly end bits by custom cutting the length of the side chains, or adding extensions if a bit too short to install easily. Like a 3 inch chunk if that 1 inch more diameter is an issue.

    So far it looks like just setting my chains kit (in an ammo can ;-) in the back is about all I really need to do. I’m prone to finding a hotel during actual storms, and driving when clearer; no particular arrival time being needed most of the time. So mostly just how to get out of the parking lot or make it that last 10 miles in a “surprise” situation. With maybe the odd “must cross the snowy mountain patch” that isn’t going to melt for months.

    If I’m going to need chains for the really rough stuff anyway, and the band between M&S rated and Chains (in which Three Mountains rated are needed) is actually modestly narrow, then I’m happy to just “carry chains” rather than have a set of 4 Snow Tires hanging around for 9 months of the year to maybe use them a few days a year.

    I guess finding all my chains stuff in the garage is “on the cards”. Last I looked it was 2 or 3 sets. One Honda sized and one or two Mercedes sized. Plus the tools set. I can likely make a set of 4 for the Subaru pretty easily in about 2 hours. I’ve got at least 9 months to do it ;-)

  6. Larry Ledwick says:

    Well mixed feelings about this. I have 53 years of driving experience in snow and ice. That is around 600,000 miles of driving, Both two wheel drive rear wheel drive, selectable 2 wd front to 4wd , and full time 4 wheel drive.

    You really have two entirely different needs, depending on local conditions. Moderately deep snow 3-6 inches of wet Sierra cement, or 3-6 inches of dry high country powder have very different traction characteristics. At temperatures well below freezing, snow actually has reasonably good traction (cold enough the snow squeaks when you walk on it). At temps near freezing especially if the snow is wet it can get bloody slick especially if you have hard pack or ice under the snow.

    Slickest of all is glare ice with a skiff of wind blown snow at temps near freezing.

    I am not a fan of generic all season tires. It is my experience that they are equally poor in all conditions. Not particularly good on dry pavement, mediocre on wet, and barely acceptable in snowy conditions. In really slick conditions they don’t work well at all, only slightly better than regular street tires with good tread.

    That said a good driver who is cautious and plans ahead can drive on almost anything with almost any tire in snow most of the time, provided the tire has good tread, but you reach the physical limits in really slick conditions where you can barely stand up or slick wet snow on ice.

    Your full time four wheel drive will make a huge difference in the latter conditions, and you will be able to drive easily 80% of the time in even very slick conditions with good tires.

    In really slick conditions in the Forrester, the two situations you will need better tires for, is a panic stop situation or turning when you have brutally slick conditions. This can be aggravated on unfavorable street conditions ( slightly down hill, flat corner camber of even off camber, slick concrete and your friendly neighborhood idiots have already polished the corner to a mirror shine)

    I always buy a true snow tire with the mountain and snow flake symbol on them in the winter. Some of these are also considered all season tires.

    The key difference in the true winter snow tires is a rubber compound that retains flexibility and grip in cold conditions (this also makes them wear a bit faster in hot dry conditions). The specialty soft compound winter tires like the Blizzak are reportedly very good compared to conventional snow tires, but over the last 15-20 years I have lived and worked in locations where the local street clearing crews do a crappy job, the roads frequently get bloody slick due to wind blown snow melting and then flash freezing at sunset into black ice covered with a powdering of wind blown snow. As a result I pay the few dollars extra and buy true snow tires with studs so I can get home from work and dodge the idiots. Your driving situation would not require this, but for my situation it is cheap insurance and has saved me a couple accidents when someone else did something stupid and I had to make a panic stop under those conditions.

    It does not need to be a heavily lugged “tractor tire” instead you want a tread pattern that has lots of edges and open grooves. Some good snow tires look very normal until you get close to look at the details of the tread design.

    For real winter driving conditions where you expect to be in slick conditions look for tread patterns like this that have open grooves between tread blocks, lots of small edges and frequently some side tread on the shoulders so in deep snow you have additional traction.

    This is the blizzak WS60

    This is the Winter Slalom KSI

    This is the Yokohama IG20

    This is the Michelin X-Ice Xic

    I am a strong advocate of buying an extra set of wheels for your car and putting real honest to god snow rated tires on them, and pulling them off in the summer swapping to a normal tire.

    On the Subaru you have to change tires in full sets since if you miss match tire sizes too much it will burn up the fluid coupling that divides torque front to rear, this also gives you a matched size set of tires to replace a damaged tire and you can buy the replacement set (or if lucky find a matching circumference tire to replace the damaged tire at your own schedule.

  7. Larry Ledwick says:

    After posting the above posts with tire rack links in it, now my pop up advertisments on your page are all winter tire ads. ;)

    I have used the Yokohama and Kuhmo tires and both make excellent winter tires often a bit cheaper than the big grand names like Michelin

  8. ScottF says:

    Studded tires are not allowed in Illinois.
    I live in a burb near Chicago. If you can avoid hills, you don’t need the winter tires (assuming 4WD).

  9. John F. Hultquist says:

    We are old enough to have learned to be careful. Just for the convenience we deal at Les Schwab, buy a mid-grade all season tire, and DO NOT try to get every last mile out of them. Just because a tire still holds air does not mean it is a good idea to hit interstate speed with it.
    While negotiating a mountain pass (with 4×4), we had a small car pass us at the top. That car lost traction, hit the plowed snow on the left, bounced off, careened across in front, hit the plowed snow on the right. Only luck and a few seconds prevented a pileup. This was on the way to Seattle.
    We will not schedule a trip over the Pass between mid-November and mid-February.
    Many cities from about Cincinnati on south are not equipped to handle snow. Snow plows and mountains of grit are just not there. A small snowfall will result in lots of accidents but a careful driver, especially with AWD, can travel. Heavier snow, say 10″, will likely lead to abandoned cars and no-go situations.
    There are many more cars and trucks on the roads and most folks do not plan. Therefore, they are in a hurry. It follows that you must be very defensive.
    Regular drivers on a route (most of them) also do not carry supplies of food and drink, and extra clothes. I have what I call my “spare box.” This is a big apple shipping box (bushel size) with water and calories, and spare socks, shoes, jeans, and so on.
    We’ve seen clear ice (aka called “black ice” – needs a black road) a half inch thick. This happens on roads that go up and down in elevation. For most miles you have traction. Then on a slight rise the road can get a coating of clear ice. Bad news if you are aware of the possibility and watch for it. I-84 near La Grande, OR is one of those roads. Twice we have had to drive with the right side tires off the road on the gravel berm.

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    As I’m going to be driving the length of Illinois into Chicago, that’s good to know…


    I’m making sure I have hydrophylic tread compound tires with good snow rating.

    What’s already on the Forester looks pretty good. Not quite as many sipes (small lines / edges) but hopefully enough. There are folk who will add sipes to existing tires, but i don’t know the costs.:

    though snow ratings only “fair”.

    Light Snow Traction     7.0
    Deep Snow Traction      5.7
    Ice Traction            5.6

    Given that I’ve driven 2 wheel drive rear only no chains on a 4 inch slab of glare ice I’m thinking all wheel drive with “fair” ice and snow is “Good Enough” most of the time (especially as if it is actively stormy the spouse will NOT leave the hotel ;-)

    Eventually I’ll replace them, but that’s years in the future.

    The Mercedes has 2 tires that need replacing “now” / soon (edge wear) and they can be replaced in pairs. I’m liking the looks / rank of the Sumitomo’s (that I’ve run before and really liked).

    Light Snow Traction     8.0
    Deep Snow Traction      7.2
    Ice Traction            7.0

    All in the “good” range.

    Don’t know yet if it will be the Subaru or the Mercedes used for the winter runs north. Spouse will prefer the Mercedes… I want to play with the truck. Probably will be the Mercedes just to avoid high center of gravity and windage issues. Though putting chains on the Subaru would be a lot easier. We’ll see after some play in sand and mud ;-)

    And yeah, I’m likely to get some snow tire ads now too (unless they realize I’m in Sunny California).

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    @John F.;

    That ice slab I ran on was near Weed, California, on my way back from Medford Oregon, in a Blizzard. Last time I ever drove in winter un-prepared… I was about 17…

    I’m expecting that most likely (unless caught by surprise) we’ll be doing the winter run by going west enough to avoid the mountains. It’s about the same time up through Georgia and over, or over then up through Mississippi, even in dry weather. BUT, I’ve observed that where the storm is going to be might be either one. So it might end up “storm on the flat” vs “Not in the storm but in the cold hills”. I’m biased against that second one since the storms tend to drift East and that creates a “race condition” to get through the mountains before the storm gets there…

    BUT, I’ve not looked at the N / S route that much. I don’t really know the best winter path yet.

    FWIW, I’ve managed, many times, to go coast to coast and avoid various storms, hurricanes, ice, hail, floods, etc. etc. by observing the weather maps and stations and adjusting travel times and routes. (My Florida Friend often a bit annoyed when I’d announce “I AM leaving tomorrow despite it being a few days early, to avoid the FOO weather.”)

    In California we tend to get the “black ice” on the bridges on the ski run up the mountains.

    I now always travel with a “Preparedness Pack” of food, clothes, water, tools, …

  12. p.g.sharrow says:

    I’ve driven on every kind of road /not road from San Diego to Anchorage. With every kind of vehicle from a little Honda bike to an 18 wheeler cabover Kenworth.
    Ride on good tires and carry chains. Be mindful of changing road conditions and the fact that the guy in front of you will do something stupid…pg

    OH yeah, I hate driving!…pg

  13. mrmethane says:

    I’m a “real” snow tire fan. I like Blizzak, but only the outer 1/3 of the tread sticks to ice, so don’t use ’em all year. Rubber compounds are magic. “Ice” radials amazed me on ice with a 2 inch layer of water above, during a chinook in Calgary.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    “More than a foot of snow in Chicago suburbs, they got another round this morning, too,” says Ryan. “Also, it appears that New Hampshire and Vermont areas have gotten about a foot also from multiple storms recently.

    So I’m thinking that a foot at once is a bit unusual for Chicago and generally the roads are kept clear to maybe an inch of slushy stuff. Chains used if caught in the foot of fresh drop; M&S for the general conditions.

    It also looks like the 15 inch rims I have on the 300TE fit on the 4Matic. I’ll test that some day. But if so, that means I could put new sets on the 4Matic then run out the worn sets on the 300TE. I’d be more inclined to have a real set of (studless for Illinois) real winter tires that mostly sat on the spare car 9 months; and occasionally were on the 4Matic. Might still need one set of extra rims to make it all easy… I figure a 1000 miles of summer on the winter tires likely wouldn’t hurt them. No?

    This whole winter tires thing is a bit alien to me… so still internalizing / learning it…

  15. Chiff says:

    I’ve lived in northern NH for 50 years making a living driving tractor trailer. Most important lesson is leave yourself room in front of you. Twice what you think is necessary. If you don’t, tires won’t matter. Slow down, brake first then get off the brakes when you turn. Get the snow tires. Keep a 5 gallon bucket of wood ash from a fireplace or fire pit in your vehicle. It’s 10 times better than kitty litter. Rub it all around your tires and a little in front of them and you’ll get out of any snow bank.

  16. Chiff says:

    I swapped my summer/winter tires every year until half the winter tread was gone then I left the winter on all summer. Btw, the dangerous driving is not the foot of snow. That’s easy. It’s the 3 inch shit that’s tough. Snow is snow but ice is ice. If it’ts Ice just don’t drive. If you’re caught in an icy situation get off the road. If you’re sliding on ice don’t hit the brakes or counter steer. Just hold the steering wheel and pray

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    OK, some web searching later…

    Lots of places advocate not running winter tires in summer. THE largest complaint is rapid tire wear as the rubber is soft. As I’m talking of the “spare car” largely only being used when the main car is in the shop, I’m not seeing wear as an issue.

    More minor issues are slightly longer stopping distance and more squishy handling. The Mercedes is way more maneuverable than I or the spouse can really use. Well, I can “go there” if pushed, but generally it is outside my actual comfort zone before cornering or brakes are limiting. So again, as the “spare car” driven at 45 mph to the grocery store / movie a couple of weeks / summer, I’m not seeing this as a big risk. Then another is “once worn down you lose winter traction”. I’m not seeing that as an issue either. We’re talking a probable 10,000 miles / year use for the car total. 80% or more of that on all-season tires. So MAYBE 2000 miles / year wear. We’ve got about 10 years driving left in us. 20,000 miles will leave most tires at at least 1/2 tread left.

    Frankly, the biggest issue I see is that the 300TE has new tires on it that are not going to wear out in that length of time either…. so this is likely a hypothetical as those rims will not need new tires inside the planning horizon… meaning other rims needed. (Why is that bad? We’re trying to get all the stored crap down closer to zero as we move toward an RV lifestyle… so a garage may not be in the future).

    Then there’s this:

    But one safety expert said he sticks to winter tires on warm roads.

    “I drove many times to Florida from Ottawa with my winter tires – I leave here in the winter and I use the winter tires while in Florida,” said Raynald Marchand, general manager of programs with the Canada Safety Council, in an e-mail.

    So Ottawa demands snow tires on, but the guy goes to Florida then…so is driving winter tires in Florida Warm when he gets there. And with little problem.

    I think I’m smelling some urban legend mixed with a grain of truth. As in “yes those properties changes exist but most folks will never notice in normal use”.

    Well, I think that’s going to stay a hypothetical for me until after I’ve used the regular old “all season M&S” tires on a 4 x 4 and assessed the experience. Maybe I’ll run up to the Sierra this month while it’s still deep in snow and see what happens when I play a bit ;-)

    I’ll only go to dedicated Winter Tires (and deal with the issues involved) IFF I find some problem that needs them. For now I’m comfortable with using all-season M&S and being more careful about when and where I go.

  18. Bill S says:

    Avoid I-80 and you should be ok with M/S. I lived in Laramie Wyoming and I put studded snow tires on an Austin Healey Sprite because I got tired of getting blown off the road in black ice conditions.

  19. Bill S says:

    Dang. Interstate 80

    [ Added a dash for ya. ;-) E.M.Smith ]

  20. Larry Ledwick says:

    I generally put snow tires on in Sept and leave them on until late May, then switch to good summer tires (road touring tires on non-performance car, and good summer performance tires on the WRX). I generally drive 15,000 miles a year and easily get 2 winters (18 months of use) out of the winter set, and if money challenged (or just lazy) can get 3 seasons but they are getting a bit short of tread on that third season. (note I drive pretty aggressively as far as cornering and such someone who drives very sedately would get another season out of them most likely) I also tend to change them before I “need to” and don’t like getting the tread down near the wear bars.

    On a car capable of high performance (WRX) the snow tires will lengthen stopping distance and reduce cornering performance over summer performance tires. Most folks don’t drive hard enough to really notice it, except on an occasional too fast turn onto an exit ramp or left turn where the car will crab a bit sideways more than on a summer tire. Older snow tires work well in rain and their open tread pattern makes them less prone to hydroplaning than normal street tires but not quite as good as tires with good wet weather perforce designed for rain.

    They are a little noisier than normal tires (noticeable when driving with windows down in summer) not so much other times of the year. Long distance high speed cruising in the heat of the summer will wear them out sooner (shorten their total tread life), but on occasion I have driven on them year around, when I wanted to burn them up and get new snow tires in the fall.

    The one thing you will have to get used to in the Forester, is that in the winter it drives so nicely and well behaved even when slick that you will forget or not notice how slick it is.

    First snow storm of the year I usually take an opportunity to do a couple brake checks in a safe place to see how slick it really is, to refresh my memory of what the limits are on that particular storm. Using moderate speed and light breaking conditions, you will not even realize it is getting slick due to the AWD giving you easy brisk acceleration at stop lights.

  21. Larry Ledwick says:

    Yes I-80, US-285 up in your area and northern stretches of I-25 near Ft Collins and north can get “interesting” when it first freezes and formerly wet streets turn into skating rinks.

  22. E.M.Smith says:


    Good ideas. Don’t know where I’ll get fire place ashes, though. (Not a lot of fire places in Florida. Maybe the BBQ ;-)

    FWIW, I grew up in country areas running on mud and gravel a lot. Learned to “boat it” on things with poor traction. I simply don’t panic in a slide, just swap to boat mode… (Steering is a suggestion, stopping a hope, don’t expect either, brakes can be exciting and fun but stopping not so much…) Until a decade or two ago, every new car I got, I’d take up to the mountains in the winter and slide them around in a snowy icy parking lot. Get a feel for how it would spin and slide. I’ve driven for a few dozen miles on a slab of hard ice. (That blizzard story above) and even did a lane change on / off of a 3 inch higher section (only one lane ploughed to the texture, the other an ice layer). The guy behind me tried to do it and ended up spinning (didn’t hit anything, just 4 ways came on as he slid sideways to a stop) ’cause he didn’t know how to ‘boat it’ and put in steering in excess. I’ve also ridden motorcycles and dealt with slip and slides, and flats at speed (even a front tire while on an overpass… exciting it was..) So I’m not real worried about being able to handle an “Aw Shit”; mostly just looking to avoid needing to use those skills again. All that prior stuff was done without ever having 4 x 4 or snow tires… so both will be major upgrades. Oh, and about 3 years ago drove the Banana Boat out of Chicago snow on all season tires. No problems at all and nothing an issue even on night re-freeze down through Indiana and a bit further south. But it IS a bit nerve wracking…

    I appreciate the tips as some of them I’ve not heard of before. I’m just not worried about the skill level or ability to control. It’s more that I’ve never had a reason to deal with “snow tires” as I’d just drive whatever was on the car when I’d go back east as it was always “one off” trips. This is the first time we’re planning to be there often and drive a lot; so figured doing the “right thing” was in order ;-) But I’m clueless about the whole Snow Tires tech / mythology / best practices. (Though less clueless at this point in the article and comments – thanks all! ;-)

    I’m also inexperienced with 4 x 4 handling. I’m hoping it’s like front wheel drive without the severe under-steer on braking ( learned to use it to advantage eventually, after “some excitement”… and how to use the hand brake for a “Mini-Slide”…) also learned to use the front drive to pull me around corners while the rear was braking… long story about 3 inches of surprise hail on a winding mountain road with cliff… like driving on marbles. About 20 miles at about 5 to 10 MPH and a whole lot of worry. Use the regular brakes and go straight that may be off the cliff. Don’t use power to drag it where you want to go, go off the edge. Solution? Power the front around the corners while dragging the rear, then all brakes on any straight section. Sweat a lot… So I don’t know if 4 x 4 is like that, or you just never need that, or what. I guess I’ll find out. Both cars are AWD all the time and feel like it just goes where you point it. OTOH, I don’t really want to burn $100 of gas just to run up to the mountains to learn the car if there’s no real difference in how they handle.

    Well, I’ve got a year to find the quirks of AWD (and the traction control and ABS on the Merc). I’m hoping it just makes it trivial on slipping surfaces as it ‘s all automated. I’m fearful my habits will all be “the wrong thing” as both me and the car second guess each other… It even has a “winter mode” switch that makes starts in 2nd gear, changes the acceleration profile, and some other stuff.

    Maybe I’m just stressing over nothing. Given the car and tires are much much better than anything I’ve driven in snow before.

  23. Terry Jackson says:

    Lots of good info above. The biggest takeaway is simple avoidance. AWD and 4WD are misleading. Unless you have some form of axle locking it is one wheel in front and one in back. Limited slip differentials are available and work at low speeds, so you may have one on the Subaru. In the East the biggest problem is not the snow, it is that so many others are in traffic and pretty hopelessly stuck. Cleveland had a storm and the office let everyone off at noon, and many rode the bus. At 4 pm they had not made two miles. I stayed late and then went to the gym, and a bit after 7 pm it was still snowing but traffic was ok on the trip home.

    Now, you say you will visit the kids in winter. You are in FL SUN and they are in IL SNOW. The road runs both directions…………Keep a tidy mind, indeed. ;p>)

  24. Chiff says:

    You do have rapid tire loss using winter tires in the summer but when the tread is half worn winter tires are not any better than a 4 season radial. So I leave them on. If you are only going to be in winter driving for a month or so I would just get a 4 season radial. Just make sure you have about 1500 miles on the tires when you get into winter driving. The treads not as hard

  25. jradiglegal says:

    Lived my entire life in Minnesota, N.Dakota, and Iowa, so have plenty of experience driving in winter conditions. During my independent adult life all vehicles have been front wheel dive, except recently 4wd Saturn Vue and now a Subaru Forrester (which my wife mostly drives). I’ve always used all-season radials and never had any problems getting where I wanted to go if I was willing to put up with the conditions. (And I’m more willing than most.)

    Based on my experience you should be fine as is and carrying your chain set just in case, especially if your are making infrequent trips to snow country and not in any particular time crunch.

    But I can’t comment on going over mountain roads with lots of snow. It your chains work in those conditions, then why bother with the hassle and expense of extra sets of tires and rims?

  26. E.M.Smith says:


    The Mercedes has some kind of smart traction control. I’ve not bothered working out exactly what yet. Some combination of ABS so the brakes always do something, and an automatic “put a bit of brake on a slipping wheel” to get it back to speed matched with the other one so it can grip again. No idea how well it works, but supposedly well. Then there’s something else going on in the front / rear distribution. Tires must match on the front axle (so I suspect some kind of limited slip) but front to rear can differ and the manual does NOT say they must match on the rear axle (so maybe no limited slip or…)

    The Subaru is reputed to be able to handle front / rear different sizes due to NOT using a viscous based coupling, but a real “differential” for the front / rear power distribution, but I’ve not confirmed that formally. I thought it was limited slip… checking…

    All models come with ABS brakes, dual front airbags, a hill ascent assist, foglights, roof rack, and a trailer hitch. The base L is well equipped with power features and cruise control and gets the 60/40 split-fold rear seats for 2001. With both seats down, the cargo area expands to 64 cubic feet. The high-end S adds heated seats and mirrors, plus new leather trim for the wheel and shifter and new de-iced front and rear wipers. It also comes standard with a limited slip differential for better AWD performance, though the 2001 Forester’s low ground clearance prohibits true off-roading. New on the S this year is a Premium Package that adds gold wheel trim and side impact bags, as well as a brand new sunroof that stretches from the front to back seats and is just under three feet wide.

    So yeah, limited slip…

    It doesn’t do the electronic brake modulation that the Mercedes does (near as I can tell) but as that’s a bit alien to me I’m not seeing it as a problem, but does have ABS.

    Frankly, I think both sets of equipment are so much better than anything else I’ve ever driven in snow, ice, or on hail marbles or even in mud that it’s all going to be an experience in not caring.

    Then again, Larry’s point is well made. I do NOT want to get complacent about it. I’m used to fishtailing things a bit and doing some brake lock-up & slide stuff to find the car limits. I’m thinking that strategy won’t work with all this fancy kit.

    Oooohhh…. Interesting point…. I WILL be starting from warm wet Florida.

    I’m thinking maybe 3 trips / year. Thanksgiving, December Christmas. January Birthdays as a maybe (spouse and I may chose to stay warm instead ;-) and have them come down…)

    So we’re talking 6 one way 1/2 runs of about 1800 miles each max, and even then many may not be in snow. (Thus my resistance to keeping a set of Winter Only Tires laying around) Now you’ve pointed out that of those runs, likely only about 1000 miles max of each will even be possible to be in snow and ice… ( I mentioned I’m not used to thinking in therms of N / S runs…) I think I’m back at those High Performance All Season tires with a good Snow rating and carry a box of chains “in case” plus a credit card and map of the hotels along the route ;-)


    You talked me into it ;-)

    Since it will really be, at most, about 1000 miles of snow and ice per trip and 2 or max 3 round trips in winter, having dedicated tires just for that likely is overkill. 4 season high perf M&S rated and all the electronic traction controls stuff with AWD is likely overkill already too ;-) That’s what’s on the car already.

    I think the biggest issue will likely just be making sure they are near full tread depth in winters. That will be OK the first year or two as I’ve got nearly new on the Subaru now, and the 4Matic will have all new by the time we move. So maybe a year or two from now buy a 2nd new set on rims, then drive the worn tires for 3 seasons and the new tires in winter until it’s time for another set of new… I think that’s sounding like the best plan so far.

  27. John F. Hultquist says:

    I’ve heard the area between the top of a tire and the material above is called the dead cat space. I’ve no idea about that space as one moves down the tire, front or back. It generally narrows, closing in, so to speak.

    Regarding Subarus: There is not much clearance in these spots.
    We get ice build-up in these areas and the tires rub.
    If you break that ice up into chunks, near the top, the spaces are too narrow for it to fall out.

    I’ve not tried fitting chains on these cars, but will guess it is not fashionable. We do have a pickup, if we needed to go, and needed chains.

    I’ve a couple of ideas for car designers and one is to study the Lotus effect, see:

    This effect would be great for those tight areas around a tire, but might be hard to do with slush/ice. Might have to heat part of the inside panel.
    However, I checked the Subaru web site and they say “Don’t bother; we have engineers.”
    If they adopted my ideas, all I ask is a single new vehicle. Ungrateful lot they are.

  28. Fascinating! Thankfully I never needed to learn all that stuff about driving on snow and ice.

    I only used chains once in my entire life and it was such a miserable experience I swore never to do it again.

  29. E.M.Smith says:

    @John F. Hultquist:

    Forget Subaru! You may have solved one of the problems of aircraft. IFF this property also works with frozen water, it might prevent wing icing. Massive amounts of money are spent on de-icing wings and cleaning “bug splats” off of them for better airfoil performance.

    Again, it’s an IF. But IFF it works, that’s worth a bundle to the airplane industry.

    The Forester (the truck version of Subaru) looks to have decent room around the wheel. Then again, I’ve not looked really closely. Maybe I need to dig those chains out “soon” and see what it feels like to try putting them on.

    In California, you put them on as you climb the mountain, so just a little past the freeze line. I’m thinking out of California you might find yourself putting them on when it’s already in the below zero land and snow arrived from somewhere else… I have no idea what that would be like, but imagine “not good” is in the right direction. Hmmm…. Now I’m vacillating back to the idea that $400 for a second set of rims and some dedicated snow tires might be a “decent value for money spent: ;-) Maybe I need to look at some historical temperatures for the routes available…

  30. Seth Roentgen says:

    I’ve been riding/driving everything from motorcycles to heavy commercials since 1968. I live in a “heavy snow area” in Japan. We average about 9 metres of snow every winter and can get 18 metres. Road conditions vary from dry, through black ice, hardpack to deep fresh snow. As with Larry (above) winter tyres go on in early November and come off in April. Where you really notice the difference is in braking distance, as in being able to stop or not.

    A few years ago I got caught out on summer tyres in November snow on a late night drive home from Tokyo. The car (Subaru Legacy AWD) was virtually undriveable. The most memorable moment was locking up on approach to a red light, having to lift off to avoid sliding down the camber and running the red. Never again.

    Woke up this morning to overnight snow deeper than my wellies, and have spent 3 hours clearing it. The radio has reported that Hijori Onsen (in the mountains about 30km west of me) had 4 metres overnight. Lucky them.

  31. E.M.Smith says:


    The first time is hell. The second time is utterly miserable. The third time is a PITA. By the 4th time, it’s only a damn nuisance. After that it’s not so bad ;-)

    Oh, and a full body macintosh suit with really good gloves helps. I used my Wet Suit Gloves as they kept me warm, dry, and had good grip. The skiing snow goggles only needed in blowing snow. IMHO the “rain suit” with thermal under it and the gloves, along with my super-duty winter boots, are essential parts of the “chains kit”. As are “chain tensioners” (giant rubber band) that avoid adjustment problems, and a couple of other tools / tricks help. Like a really good ‘headlight” flashlight for seeing what you are doing in the dark without a third hand…

    Practicing, at least twice, in the dry warm driveway before the trip is also very important and helpful. Pre-packing the chains into the ammo can in the orientation needed for applying them also helps.

    Yes, it’s a PITA. I’m very very much hoping that the AWD and good tires lets me avoid it.

    In California at the “chain stations” going up the mountain, 4 wheel drive or AWD with M&S rated tires lets you skip the chains requirements. I’m hoping that stays true back east and that I only carry chains as insurance against a Very Bad Thing (that I hope to avoid by planning). Given a choice of “chains and get home tonight” or “stop at that Best Western over there”, we’re hitting the hotel… Steak and buttered-baker, with TV and warm shower after, beats snow in the face and frozen fingers in the slush any day, IMHO. Yet that snow and slush beats frozen to death on the shoulder in the blizzard…

    Maybe I’m overthinking it. Then again, I once got to spend the night “on the shoulder” in a blizzard. Wet suit under my parka and running the engine for heat on about a 25% duty cycle (so there was enough gas) got me through the night. Next morning it warmed enough I could rock the car (alternating FW / Reverse – no longer possible with automatics and lockouts… ) and get out of the stickage and on my way. Otherwise I might have become a Popsicle. ( I like to think I’d have “thought of something” but you never know…) So now I’m always over the top prepared. Or maybe not over the top. I’ve not had any such issue since, so it seems to be working…

    That was the trip where I learned that after you put chains on, you drive forward a couple of feet and then tighten them again. And that chain tensioners are a life saving device, not a frivolity. I’d driven forward about 10? feet and “lost a chain” as it was too loose. First time I ever tried to use chains not in the driveway. Hard to find a tossed chain in the dark in a blizzard on a mountain. I tried a few times and then realized I was getting too cold. A car with only one chain just spins the other wheel… Like I said, the equipment I’ve got now makes that junk look just … well, just like junk.

    ANY time I’m headed into “snow conditions”, that experience is nagging at me reminding me to make sure I’ve got the emergency kits, cold weather gear, stove, fuel, extra cash, chains, spare chain repair parts, flashlight, etc. etc. etc. all packed and working. It’s to some extent why there is a “preparedness” category on the right… I was only semi-prepared. Enough to stay alive but not enough to be comfortable…

  32. E.M.Smith says:


    IIRC, the Forester is a truck body on the Legacy frame / running gear. That experience of yours is, um, “valuable”… as it says the AWD isn’t really the problem. It will directly apply to the Forester. Yes, it makes you “go” better and maybe even stay controllable a bit more. But stopping and maybe even real turning not so much.

    I’m not on “summer tires” but on “All Season M&S rated” tires, so I hope that’s better at stopping.

    I think, given what you’ve said, I need to schedule a trip up to “snow country” (about 4 hours away from me, 3 of it in the warm flat) and see just what traction is like and then make my decision.

    If, in fact, it doesn’t want to stop on the snowy bits, then “winter tires” would be worth it.

    I think I need a better understanding of All Season M&S vs Summer Tires to properly evaluate the message in your experience… Time to hit Tire Rack and look up some “snow rating” numbers on Summer Tires vs All Season…

  33. Larry Ledwick says:

    Regarding Subarus: There is not much clearance in these spots.
    We get ice build-up in these areas and the tires rub.
    If you break that ice up into chunks, near the top, the spaces are too narrow for it to fall out.

    Yep heavy wet snow collects in the wheel wells – if you drive a long ways without turning you can find yourself fighting that snow build up to turn the wheels.

    In the winter I carry a 1″x2″x24 inch piece of oak that I use to knock that crap out when I park the car so it does not freeze to ice and become impossible to remove.

    The “mud guards” on the rear of the wheel wells on Subarus are designed mostly to deal with water and splashy muddy water not heavy wet snow. They have a bit of a lip on the bottom that makes it difficult for the stuff to slide down and fall out.

    The serious off road crowd around here tend to put a 1.5 – 2 inch lift on their Subarus to help relieve that situation.

    If you know it happens you can deal with the build up but I doubt you will have room for anything but the cable type chains as good lugged link chain will probably do a rotor rooter job on your trim in a turn when you hit a bump.

    The good news is with good snow tires I have never managed to get a Subaru stuck so unless you get crazy and start busting drifts it should not be an issue. A couple squares of carpet can work wonders too, just slide them under the tire and let the tire crawl up on the carpet. The also make snow mats for that intended purpose.



    (drop the square brackets front and rear to cut and paste so that amazon does not expand those links to a full page of crap here on the thread)

  34. Larry Ledwick says:

    Oh forgot to mention some folks spray down the wheel wells with one of the silicone treatments or cooking oil spray so that heavy build up tends to drop off easier if they know they are going to be dealing with heavy build up.

    (I use spray olive oil cooking spray out at Bonneville to keep the salt from sticking in the wheel wells. When it is really damp it behaves just like wet snow)

    That issue is mostly a problem just below freezing temps between 32 – 25 deg F or so. Colder than that the snow tends to not stick as much.

  35. E.M.Smith says:

    Odd that the clearance is low.

    I have, since about 1980, made my own custom cut chains. I start with commercial gear, but… over time I’ve replaced most of the original chain and all of the cross bar chain with my own stuff. Just regular light chain from the hardware store. I can make them any ‘weight’ (thickness of links) I desire or need.

    So as of now, all the “cross bars” I have are “just chain” – no added bent lug chunk welded on them.

    Then I generally make them such that there is ONE or at most two extra links on the side chains. This has two benefits. First, if it goes on the tire, it can NOT come off and get lost due to being too loose (i.e. it assures I’m not going to just hook it in the end link of a 10 link too long side chain and think I’m done…). Second, after the drive forward and tighten, then apply tensioners, it is TIGHT to the tire. This lets you go faster and NOT have bits of chains hitting your wheel wells / trim. Basically the chains are held directly against the tire with nearly no looseness. Figure about 1 to 2 inches / side max extra length, so about 1/3 to 2/3 inch of radial distance ( 1/pi or 2/pi in reality) but the tensioner takes up that at any reasonable speed.

    It can make initial install a bit more of a challenge, so I have a “temporary extender” for the side chain I can add if needed ( couple of links and a connector hook link) just to get them on; then roll forward about one turn, remove the extender, and final tighten. (Sounds like a lot more than it is… the ‘roll forward’ and the chain tensioner do most of the real work. Fairly easy clip of the inside link connector, then easy link of the extended outside, clip on the rubber band on the outside, roll forward, unclip 1/2 of it, remove extension, final closure, reclip tensioner and go.)

    I’m also quite willing to put on “sub size” tires if that’s really an issue. I could very very easily be talked into putting the “slightly smaller” Mercedes tires ( 25 inch diameter ) on the Subaru and getting an extra 1/2 inch of clearance at the expense of the speedo being off by 25/26 ths and mileage being a bit worse. To some extent, it would be a feature as then I could move the worn tires onto one of the Mercedes for “final burn up” when tread was low. As I never go “off roading” in the winter, I don’t see as I’d care about losing a 1/2 inch of ground clearance. IF that was an issue, I suppose the lift kit would be needed. But really, I’m talking about freeways to Chicago and city streets, not remote cabins and dirt roads with rocks on them. Maybe I need some “quality time” laying under the truck and getting to know the clearances…

  36. Seth Roentgen says:

    Slightly O/T but here goes. I am just back from shopping and had porked the cor (I can speak Seth Efrican) when a stranger materialised in my garage. He had porked overnight in the station cor pork opposite my home, was confronted with 50+ cm of snow and had no shovel. Could he borrow one of mine? Dozo, be my guest and good luck. Half an hour later and he’s just come back. Sugoi!

  37. David A says:

    I worked at Dodge Ridge ski resort for two seasons. I drove my recent model Subaru outback with factory all season tires. Many mornings in ice-snow Conditions I passed up SEVERAL cars that slid off the road. I never put chains on. I just drove cautiously. On the worst conditions I felt a little slip, yet the Subaru 4 wheel anti slip separate control to all 4 wheels instantly corrected.
    I recommend the Subaru for all icy conditions.

  38. cdquarles says:

    Wait a minute, EM. If you are moving to FL and will be making trips north to IL, there are no high mountains that you must deal with. I-75 runs through valleys in GA and TN. Once in TN, hit I-24 over to Nashville. From there, it is I-65 straight to Chicago.

  39. rogercaiazza says:

    Some observations based on the comments. I think that good all season tires with a set of chains is your best approach for the driving you plan to do. Keep in mind that the safety chain pull off areas are a western mountain thing. Very unusual in the east albeit I have not traveled the roads you plan to use. Ultimately, I suggest you keep your eye on the Weather Channel. Storms that will give you problems do not sneak up in that part of the country and the foamers on the Weather Channel will be spreading the word of the coming apocalypse well in advance of any trip if roads are going to be so bad that you will need the chains.

  40. E.M.Smith says:

    This morning I went out and looked at the wheel wells of the Forester, with attention to clearances.

    It doesn’t look all that bad to me. Then again, most of my “chain time” was on a Honda Civic of 1980 vintage where there was nothing “big” on the car, not even space in the wheel well.

    Only thing that was closer than I’d like was the rear wheel forward to the body. Looked like maybe in the move to 16 inch rims they spec’ed the tires larger. Would be interesting to look up the OEM tires on earlier Foresters and see what their diameter was. I’d not be at all surprised to find out the present 26.1 inch was about an inch bigger than the 25 inch +/- 1/2 that lots and lots of older cars used.


    Nice to know. Didn’t think about the chaining areas being a western thing. Makes sense, though. Chains go on as the major freeway crosses an altitude line. That doesn’t happen on the flat. My major expected use for chains is finding I’ve gotten 2 foot of fresh crap tossed behind me in the hotel parking lot by some passing machinery and I need to climb out over it; or that some strong wind blows me into a soft spot off the glare ice and I need to claw my way back to the road. I.e. not driving 100 miles on the freeway but dealing with an Aw Shit moment. We’ll find out if that’s crazy talk on not in about 2 years ;-)

    @David A:

    So it sounds like you’ve lived my proposed test of M&S tires in the hills. Thanks, you’ve just saved me a 4 hour trip ( 8 round trip) !!

    That would tend to confirm that the issue Seth had was more directly “summer tires” and that all season M&S tires corrects it (or most of it).


    Better to have the shovel and watch someone else use it than to be using it ;-)


    Yeah, not big mountains, but some kind of hills. I’ve gone through them a couple of times already on Chicago / Orlando runs. At least once in a strong winter storm with way more rain that I’d like. It’s the turns and edges that’s the worry, at the occasional snow / ice; not so much the altitude.

    The intended trips are basically Orlando to Chicago and back, over about a one week length, maybe two. For many, the spouse will fly (doesn’t like freeway driving) and I’ll drive up / down with the baggage and stuff (and avoid rental cars). On some occasions we may try a slow “road trip” with lots of stops along the way, but those ought to be in good weather and warm seasons. It might well be that after a couple of these, we’ll just both fly in and deal with the idea of rental cars in Chicago…

    Not sure exactly which all runs I’ve made. Wasn’t expecting it to become a regular… One was through Tn, maybe 2 of them… Another was somewhere further down nearer the toe of the mountain range (near Chattanooga?). Another time was a swing wide and stay on the flat out of the hills over toward Mississippi. Most of those were when I was doing California / Florida and going more north ( I-20 or I-40 or even I-80 ) to avoid various tropical storms on the Gulf Coast, but a couple were Chicago south or Florida up to Chicago. At least one was some road closer to North Carolina, then down the coast. I may be remembering those hills as the bigger ones. Until recently I didn’t bother paying attention to winter and mountains (vs not) on that kind of trip. It was just “get to the contract site fast” by whatever route was open and that typically didn’t put me i the north in the winter.

    IIRC the max altitude was something like 2000 foot. BUT, the problem is it gets cold and snowy there sometimes in the winter. As a California Native, about the coldest I’ve ever dealt with is 10 F. I’ve never had to “do below” and have no experience base with what -10 F does to tires and snow. Nor do I know how often that happens “out there”. Or exactly when (most of my travel time having been spring / summers and the occasional fall…)

    So maybe I’m just being paranoid about nothing. Then again, by doing that kind of paranoid trip prep and planning, I’ve driven coast to coast with several blizzards, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, big hail, winds blowing trucks off the freeway, etc. and never gotten stuck nor even significantly worried. Worst thing was the unexpected diversion to Florida from Chicago (when I’d planned to drop straight down to I-10 and head west) due to exhaust and timing (backfire) issues. That had me in “significant” downpours cutting the straightest path from about the Tn level to Florida. That was some amount of winding through hills / modest mountains with downpours so hard I could barely see the semi-truck tail lights in front of me (and we BOTH bailed at the first exit we could find).

    In any case, I’d rather have the right equipment and be prepared for a Blizzard in the Appalachians and not need it, then be stuck in the snow. Many more times than once I’ve had a “surprise” diversion onto a path I’d not expected to take. Equipment issues (the Banana Boat), phone call saying “Get here NOW!” (weather be damned), expected route closed for various reasons. So I like to be prepared for the worst route at the worst time; then plan on the best route at the best time of my choosing.

    The Conclusion:

    OK, my tentative conclusion out of all this is that the AWD with good snow rated M&S all season tires ought to be Just Fine for any proposed / planned winter trip from Orlando to Chicago; especially if I don’t do anything stupid and don’t have any Really Bad Thing surprises. I need to custom fit a set of chains (but given the limited slip and all the traction control, only for 2 tires) that will be expected to go on the fronts (unless they are the problem and I need the rears to pull me out of something). To be used almost entirely or only for the surprise Very Bad Thing. Once I’m back there and “in the moment” I ought to pay close attention to how things are different in extreme cold or on ice, and how these automated traction vehicles differ from my “all me all the time 2 wheel drive only” experience base and not do anything too quickly from “instinct” until I’ve retrained myself a bit. (To be done in the earliest more mild conditions…) It is highly unlikely that Real Winter Only tires make sense for me, especially given my route choices will likely have me only experiencing snow / ice in the last few hundred miles and on typically well cleared freeways / downtown Chicago.

    I think that’s a reasonable starting point until some experience base starts to show some issues.

  41. Larry Geiger says:

    I am a Florida boy. Lived here almost all my life and most of this is of no concern to me. However. I lived in Lawrence, Kansas for 4 years. At the start of my job I was provided a Mercury Zephyr rear wheel drive company car. It would NOT go in the snow. Almost killed myself a couple of times (probably not, I wan’t really going that fast, but it was still scary). Refresh time came and I got a Chevy Celebrity with front wheel drive. Totally different. Amazing. I could suddenly drive in the snow on rare occasions. It seemed as if the only difference was the weight of the engine and front end on top of the drive wheels. Also, when stopped, if it won’t go it just sits there and spins. The Zephyr would start to go sideways and then do all sorts of odd things. I moved back to Florida. Phew. I guess that most all cars are front wheel drive now but I have managed driving in those conditions for 25 years.
    Was driving to North Carolina once for Christmas and I-95 in Georgia froze up. They closed the bridges in Jacksonville just after we went over. There were no hotel rooms anywhere. I got behind a large semi-tractor with no trailer going about 20 or 25 and followed him all the way to the South Carolina border. He was mashing the slush and stuff and going slow. Worked great. Right over the border the roads cleared up and we went on to Asheville at full speed. Now I only travel in northern states in the summer time (i.e. north of the Florida/Georgia line).

  42. cdquarles says:

    If you did I-95 then I-40 or 64, then yeah. If I am remembering correctly, the valleys that I-75 and 24 run through never get to 2000 ft. 1000 tops. Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, TN, is about 3000 ft and it towers over the valley. I-40 goes through the Smokies west of Asheville, NC over to Knoxville, TN (a Vanderbilt estate summer home’s nearby).

    I’ve done that one once, in 1979, to avoid an ice storm coming up the coast. I was driving back home from Baltimore, MD, for an interview. I had chains, just in case. I drove to Chicago once in the 1990s in January, visiting relatives. It was cold, but not colder than I’ve experienced on/near the Gulf Coast, though windier and there was some snow. To my memory, the coldest I’ve ever experienced living near the northern Gulf Coast was teens in Gulfport, MS and -4F near Meridian, MS, and that was in the 1990s as well. During the Blizzard of ’93, it got to 0F at my house, in mid-March.

  43. E.M.Smith says:


    That sounds about right.

    Unfortunately, my first trip through there was about 1973 or so and I’ve done many since. Mostly with an east / west “attitude” but then N/S along the eastern coast. I-40 is my preferred road if nothing forces me off of it. (Avoids L.A. in the west and Dallas in the middle – more pine trees, fewer hurricanes S and snow N) One was out I-90 way north, then from NYC to Miami, then back to L.A…. another came back “in the middle”. “A Few” through Dallas. Since I tend to remember them all, it eventually starts to over-stack on the memories and it becomes hard to sort out which part is which trip and why… Since I wasn’t bothering to tag any of them for particular sorts. Just “absorb and store”.

    Now I find I want to know more about winter context, and it isn’t there for most of the trips. How many folks really notice, and so store, the context of a decision that the family has seen enough of the East Coast so we’re heading back to California without going up to D.C. and that left turn was made at…??… What I remember was stopping at a Mercedes Dealership in Memphis IIRC for a tune up on the Diesel Wagon and the 7? year old red-head daughter sitting in the driver seat of a showroom CLK Convertible grinning and me thinking OMG am I in trouble ;-)

    I suspect that most planned winter trips will be “up to Atlanta, left, right at ‘whatever’ and on to Chicago” if the weather is at all clear; or I-75 to left on I-10 to right on {something, I-25? I-55?) North to Chicago bypassing anything resembling hills and their ridge lift snow if weather is less clear. I’ve done both at one time or another, though not always all the way to Chicago.

    If I’m really really lucky the kid will decide in a couple of years that moving to Tampa is a great idea… ;-)

    I have noticed, watching Chicago weather, it seems far less cold and snowy than either my Dad’s stories (and weather reports) about Iowa or the news about Upstate New York. I’m hoping it’s a more modest weather zone between two extremes and that a 500 Due South run from there gets me away from all of it anyway.

    Well, “We’ll See”.

    I think I’m ready for it, in any case. Heck, until now I’ve been driving in blizzards and Sierra Nevada storms in 2 wheel drive cars with modest tires ( though M&S rated since about 1985 ). I’ve handled it so far with just that kind of equipment, so I figure even if I’m not familiar with the particulars of Midwest Weather, I’m likely better equipped than most and more experienced than most. Maybe I’m just over-reacting to all the GASP! HORRORS!!! Weather News!!!!

    If I can drive a ’67 VW Fastback down a rutted snow packed dirt road in the Sierra Nevada (with the tires never reaching the dirt through the snow) back to a cabin in the woods on Bob’s Cheapest Tires without chains, and drive a ’63 Ford Fairlane on cheap tires through a Cascades Blizzard on glare ice without chains, and ride a ’70 or so Honda 175 Motor Cycle in the snow with stock tires, and a Honda Civic up the back side of Mount Hamilton (getting to the gate as they were closing it to keep people from going where I was coming from! and happy I got there before they locked it) on 3 inches of “hail marbles” then down the front side sliding and power-turning the fronts with rear hand brake to control speed then to home on M&S tires but without chains; I suspect I can manage an AWD limited slip ABS equipped traction controlled All Weather M&S tires with nearly full tread on a ploughed interstate… One hopes anyway ;-)

  44. E.M.Smith says:

    It WAS really really funny watching the expression on the Forest Ranger guy’s face as I drove up from where None Shall Pass!! in my Honda just as he was locking the gate to assure nobody could possibly go into the abyss and he had to stop, open the gate, and let me out ;-)

    The back side of Mount Hamilton is about 40 miles of winding nothing down to the Central Valley floor and nearly nobody drives it. There’s a “camp ground” that’s really some dirt near a semi-dry creek at the valley side near the end that I’ve thought I ought to re-visit. (IF it hasn’t been disposed). Isolated and empty, even in good weather. I’m likely the only car to go from that way TO Mt. Hamilton in bad weather in a decade either side of my trip…

    An “adventure story” I hope to never experience again. A surprise thunderstorm dumped a few inches of hail marbles on the road. It looked like snow and felt like grease. As there were zero places to stop, I was somewhat committed to climbing the hill, then once at the top, there was nothing open, so essentially committed to “sitting in the ice while it froze as the sun set” or “get down the mountain now without going off the cliff”. The modified “Mini-Cooper Slide” came to mind, and worked well, even if I was petrified…

    Maybe that story is illustrative of my worry… I know techniques for a rear wheel drive and for a front wheel drive with rear hand brake. I have no clue what are the “special” techniques for an AWD / ABS / Traction Control; or even if there are any… or if “snow tires” are the magic sauce for them… I hate feeling ignorant….

    Maybe I need to just investigate AWD Snow Techniques and “move on”…

  45. J Martin says:

    Here in the UK I use Michelin climate cross. They may not be available in the US ? They are a summer tyre with winter tyres technology, you can even drive up a ski slope with them.

  46. J Martin says:

    It’s looks as if I am going to get as many miles out of my climate cross tyres as I did from my summer tyres. They are slightly quieter than my eco summer tyres, noticeably better grip in the wet, and offer that get you home ability to drive on snow that BMW drivers will never know.

  47. ossqss says:

    Just fly up and rent a vehicle with the tires on them already. Problem solved ;-)

  48. E.M.Smith says:

    @J. Martin:

    A sub-text to all this that I’ve avoided highlighting…. At one time I was doing about 60,000 miles / year and tires were changed every year or two. Then I dropped to about 40,000 / year and the spouse got the new tires and I’d “burn up” whatever she moved out of (thus having cars with the same rims…)

    Now I’m theoretically retired (unless I change my mind) and doing about 5,000 miles / year. With basically new 80,000 mile tires… Oh, wait, that’s 15 to 16 years, and the odds of my still driving then are very low as few folks in their 80’s rack up a lot of miles. Plus we are looking at a move to a retirement RV park and “golf carts in our future” so even fewer miles / year.

    So in reality, I may never buy a new set of tires again, once I’ve gotten the 4Matic properly shod.

    I’m OK with what is on the Forester. They are “good enough”. I’d likely have gone for a bit higher snow rating, but “fair” is good enough. Especially as 90%+ of the time they will be in Florida with the occasional I-10 to California as a maybe and a few runs up to Chicago as a possible unless the spouse insists on it being her Mercedes… which is likely. 80,000 mile tires. 7,000 used. About 5,000 until Florida, then “around town” for about 4,000 / year maybe. Not likely to be used up…

    There is no way I’ll put enough miles on the Mercedes 240D to wear out its tires, especially given it is now 2nd fiddle to the Forester and destined to be the California Car (as it needs no smog check stuff). Figure about 2,000 miles / year tops.

    The spouses “back up wagon” has new tires on it. ‘Nuff said I think. Nice Kumo’s and the last shoes it will get. Another 2,000 / year kind of car. Especially as this is likely the last year the spouse will be working / driving to work.

    That just really leaves the 4Matic Wagon that will get new tires. So what are the odds we’ll wear out new tires with a 10,000 miles of California commuting, 2800 miles to Florida, then a half dozen 1800 mile runs to Chicago? At most…

    So in all probability, when I put new tires on the 4Matic Wagon, those are the last tires I’ll ever buy.

    Let’s just say that how many miles I can get on any tires are now low on my list of concerns…

    4 cars x 60,000 miles / car = 240,000 miles >> my likely miles left in me.


    All in good time. When I’m not good to make the drive anymore and get over my hatred of the car rental process, then we’ll “go there”. Until then, I really really can’t stand the process of renting a car. It’s not like I’m an ax murderer bent on driving a car full of gas cans into the local City Haul … (no, no spelling error…) As long as I can, I’ll chose anonymity and privacy and ease and low cost over the wallet and privacy rape of car rental. I bought a car in Florida for $1600 as it was cheaper than the car rental. It lasted about 8 months (about 7 longer than the expected rental). And I got to drive a Mercedes Limo instead of an econo box…

    I no longer fly any distance shorter than about 800 miles as it is faster and easier to just drive. I recently flew to Las Vegas as I expected to drive a car back. That didn’t work out, so I ended up trying to fly back… that put me on a bus as the next plane was the next day and the bus left in a few hours. I can drive to Las Vegas and back “same day”, but flying took longer to get there and then could not get me back… (An unexplained ‘flight delay’ had me sitting hours in the airport) Plus, I can stop when and where I want, eat what I want at much better prices, listen to what I want, and don’t have to smell the person next to me while I sit in too small a seat. Now season all that with flexibility. I can arrive when I like, leave when I like, and go wherever I want in between.

    Essentially, unless it is coast-to-coast or over water, I’m not interested in flying.

  49. ossqss says:

    I am no fan of flying either. In particular when connecting though the major hubs!
    We did the Auto-Train a few times and it was not bad as we actually had a room with a bathroom in it. We boarded at 4 pm in Sanford Florida, and got off at 9 am in Lorton Virginia. There was no time saving, but we did avoid the stress of the 95 corridor travel.

  50. gallopingcamel says:

    “Essentially, unless it is coast-to-coast or over water, I’m not interested in flying.”

    Amen to that brother! Currently I am in Bogota, Colombia (lovely weather, splendid country) but now I must grit my teeth to board a plane that will take me back to the good old USA.

  51. Stewart Pid says:

    EM check these out. I have had great experience with them in Canada ie real winter driving between Calgary and my condo on the ski hill at Fernie BC
    I have the WRG 3 but the 4 is the latest and greatest. Previously used both Blizzaks and Michelin Xice which were both great but the “all Weather” tires allow u to avoid the seasonal tire change each autmn and spring.
    Toyo is also now making an “all weather” tire & note it is the “all weather” classification that gives u the severe snow and ice rating ie the Mountain / snowflake symbol.
    I am running them on a front drive Toyota Solara convertible (perfect ski vehicle) and my son has a set on an Acura MDX … all with good results. I have used about 3 sets of these tires over the last 8 years.
    Nokians may be tough to get as they often are made in Russia and while no issue in Canada u folks seem to be upset with old Vlad these days.

  52. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ll check them out. Looks like a local store (chain is both in Calif and Florida) has them listed as a brand they carry:

    BTW, I think it’s only the Democrats that are pissy at Russia. Most Americans just don’t care one way or the other. Frankly, most of us are unaware the rest of the world exists outside of the TV…


    Hmmm. Interesting idea for when we do the National Monuments tour. Spouse doesn’t do well on trains (gets “car sick” on trains…) but does really well on planes. As it is a lot easier to fly without baggage, for long trips I drive the car, packed, and she jumps from airport to airport. Takes a bit of timing some times ;-) Oddly, for anything under about 600 miles, it’s usually about the same total time…

    But I could easily see me and the car doing the train, then I pick her up at the airport and we do the DC Tourist thing. Then a slow meander up to about Boston. Then I do the marathon drive back and she hops a plane home. (Don’t know if a second auto-train would time out right on the return, then again, she could Uber home from the airport and just be a home body for a day or two…)

    I think I like that plan. Lets me be “fresh” during the “touring” part and a series of short drives seeing the sights work for both of us.

    Don’t see the winter to Chicago advantage though as it has me using the train where there’s little to no snow, then driving though higher mountains where the snow is deeper…


    Between about 1960 and 1990 there was a wonderful golden age for commercial flight. It was something like $28 to hop a “commuter flight” to Los Angeles from Silicon Valley and they left every 15 minutes or so. Parking was directly across the street from the counter and boarding was out the door behind it. I once parked the car with 15 minutes to scheduled departure, ran across the street and bought a ticket, out the door and on the plane with about 5 minutes to spare.

    That was when I loved to fly. Nice sized seats. Meals and beverages included in the ticket. None of this gaming baggage fees and crap. Even real metal “silverware” with the on-board meals on longer flights. I remember looking at the little knife with the AA wings on it for American Airlines…

    So I was in L.A. about 2.5 hours later and we were at the client site inside 3 hours. Now you must expect 3 hours just to get parked, shuttled to the terminal, long wait at “check in” if you don’t have a pre-printed at home boarding pass, expect to be pulled out and frisked if you buy a 1 way last minute ticket especially for cash, then God Only Knows how long to get through all the lines at “security” and out the jetway to “whereever” (sometimes with a train hop in the middle like at Orlando or Denver IIRC) and THEN your flight may or may not take off in an hour or two even if you DID arrive at the gate at the recommended 1/2 hour early.

    I’ve actually timed it a few times now, and I can hit L.A. by car about as fast as the family can fly down… It’s basically a 6 hour drive, and about 6 hours “door to door” to fly. 3 flying (they slowed the speed to save gas…) and 3 getting to and through the airport.

    Oh Well.

    It is still a little better for coast to coast. About 6 hours instead of 3 to 4 days. Add in airport time it’s about a 9 hour day plus getting out of the airport on arrival. I just count it as a whole day, door to door. At present, my personal “cut off” is about Dallas. At about 1/2 way across the country, flying is about a wash. It’s still nearly a day to prep, airport time, and fly, but only about 1.5 to 2 days to drive and you get to skip the rental car PITA and the drive to your final destination through the urban airport mess. Chicago is just beyond that from California, but inside it from Orlando, so IMHO driving to Chicago is OK and flying is also just OK. The “decider” being the rental car hassle and the urban mess drive from the airport to where the kid lives.

  53. u.k.(us) says:

    I remember my Dad telling me that, if the a^^hole in front of you doesn’t have snow tires, then it is all a mute point.

  54. u.k.(us) says:

    Make that “moot” point.

  55. kneel63 says:

    “Your full time four wheel drive will make a huge difference in the latter conditions, and you will be able to drive easily 80% of the time in even very slick conditions with good tires.”

    While I don’t see much snow (I live in Sydney, Australia!), I am currently driving an AWD – 3.5 24V V6 with 5 speed auto. I can put that sucker on wet grass, drop it into “D”, and flatten the go pedal – it just hooks up and goes. (FYI, in the wet, I can leave your equivalent of Pontiac GTO floundering in wheelspin off the line – I only need 1/2 throttle to do it :-) Great fun when they see what I am driving – the FWD equivalent is considered a “dud”, so it’s a real “sleeper” in slick conditions)

    Would also second the “watch the braking” part – one of the few times I have been caught out is with “Sydney summer ice” – hot day, oil makes it to top of tarmac, just enough rain to wet the road but not wash the oil away. Like black ice, that stuff and normally unexpected to make it worse. Fortunately, no damage for me that time.

  56. Haan says:

    In the past I switched tires, summer/winter but now I have all weather, or all season tires that do well in rain and snow and don’t make a lot of noise or show a lot of wear and tear in the summer.
    Thick snow during a summer holiday while the car was on summer tires made me decide in favor of the all weather tire. I also put the run flats developed by BMW on my rims. Works perfectly. All Wheel Drive is great. There is no looking back after that.

  57. p.g.sharrow says:

    The last few miles to our mountain home is by way of gravel road, sometimes in “warm” snow. Shifting our SUV into 4wheel from 2wheel makes a BIG difference in control and traction in marginal conditions. Just remember, don’t push it too hard. If you lose it, you really lose it. It will snap swap ends and maybe flip.
    Otherwise, modern All wheel drive is great, just use aggressive all weather tires and you can drive on surfaces you can’t walk on. Chains only needed on deep wet snow and black ice…pg

  58. E.M.Smith says:

    @Larry Geiger:

    Don’t know why this was in spam. Pulled it out.

    Yes, the weight over the wheels is important. Same reason old rear engine VWs work so well in the snow. Front end is light and floats over lumps but starts the squash of it and steers even when sliding a little, then the rears grip and push.

    I think the wake-up for me was a couple years back. Winter ice in North Carolina. Trees were beautifully covered in ice as were the roads. One giant ice sheet. They closed overpasses. Gingerly driving on surface streets worked, but like a boat. That was in a FWD Honda.

    Never had seen anything like it. Not a California thing…

    Thus my interest in the East Coast customs of snow tires and such.

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